Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August is a fantasy adventure with plenty of action and lots of mystery.
Twelve-year-old Arlo Finch has just moved with his mom and older sister to live with his uncle in a tiny Colorado town. In an effort to fit in, he joins a scouting organization called the Rangers. He expects that he’ll learn to tie knots and navigate using a compass–and he does. But the Rangers also practice unusual skills that involve harnessing the magical energy of the nearby Long Woods.
Soon, Arlo receives a mysterious warning that he’s in danger. He’ll need all his new skills and the help of his new friends from Blue Patrol to stay one step ahead of the supernatural forces that are after him.
Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire is the first in a planned trilogy. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it. We just borrowed the second one, Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon, from the library.
And if you’re curious about how the book came to be, John August has recorded an interesting podcast (Launch) about the whole process from writing to printing.
Spark by Sarah Beth Durst is a delightful fantasy for middle grade readers.
Twelve-year-old Mina is a quiet girl. She lives with her boisterous family on a farm in Alorria, a land with perfect weather thanks to the storm beasts and their guardians.
Mina has always dreamed of being a storm guardian, and for the past two years, she’s been caring for a storm-beast egg. But when her egg hatches, she discovers that she’s bonded not with a gentle sun or rain beast but with a fiery lightning beast named Pixit. Despite her family’s misgivings, Mina and her beast eagerly set forth to learn their duties at lightning school.
School is full of challenges for a shy, calm girl like Mina, though. The other students are so reckless and confident, and she worries that she’ll never fit in. Just as she’s starting to find her place, she accidentally crosses the border during a thunderstorm and learns that the Alorrians’ control of the weather has disastrous consequences for the outsiders. But what can one girl and her storm beast do to right this wrong?
Larrabee and I love books with lovable non-human characters like Bob (Bob), Charlie (Sweep), Squorp (The Menagerie), or Inkling (Inkling). And Pixit is one of our new favorites! His irresistible combination of innocence, wisdom, and humor made us smile.
Mina is a terrific heroine too. This is not a book about a quiet girl who learns to speak up. Rather, it’s a book about a quiet girl who learns that she can be a leader in her own quiet way.
Tinn and Cole Burton, the main characters of William Ritter’s Changeling, are twins. They look identical in every respect, and they get into all the same mischief. But only one of them is a human boy. The other is a goblin changeling. And neither knows which one he is.
Then, just before their 13th birthday, the twins find a note in their favorite climbing tree. The note instructs the changeling to return alone to the goblin horde the next day or else magic in the Wild Wood will die, the horde will die, and he will die.
Tinn and Cole are not entirely sure the note is real, but they can’t take the chance that one of them might die if they do nothing. So they decide to follow the map enclosed with the note into the Wild Wood and across the swamp known as the Oddmire to find out who they really are. Along the way, they meet strange creatures and face many dangers.
Changeling is a fast-paced fantasy adventure. It has a fairy tale-like feel that reminded me of The Girl Who Drank the Moon. My favorite thing about the book was how Tinn and Cole wrestle with the uncertainty about which one of them is a goblin and what that will mean for the other one and for their relationship.
This book is the first in a new series (The Oddmire). Some series openers have frustrating cliffhanger endings, but I’m pleased to report that this book does not fall into that trap. It provides a couple of tantalizing clues about the next book, of course, but it resolves the main story questions raised in this one in a satisfying way.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is July 16.
If you’re looking for something to read aloud to your kids, I highly recommend Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier. It’s a wonderful book that will appeal to both kids and adults.
Set in Victorian London, Sweep is the story of an 11-year-old orphan named Nan. Nan was raised by a kindly sweep, who fed her story soup when there was no food and taught her to see the wonder in the world. But when she was six years old, he disappeared, leaving only his hat and a warm lump of char. Since then, she’s worked for a cruel sweep as a climber, a dirty and dangerous job. One day, she’s caught in a chimney fire, and she thinks that’s the end for her. Instead, it’s the beginning of a new adventure with her unlikely savior, a soot golem she names Charlie.
This book is a heartbreaking story about poverty, child labor, anti-Semitism, and sacrifice. It’s also a heartwarming story about friendship, love, and a life of purpose. And it’s a delightful story about Nan and Charlie’s time together in the House of One Hundred Chimneys. Larrabee and I both loved it.
If you like time travel stories, Arthurian legends, or video games, then you should check out The Once and Future Geek, the first book in Mari Mancusi’s new series called The Camelot Code. It’s action-packed and funny.
Not only do Sophie and Stu, two modern day middle schoolers, travel back in time to Camelot, but a young Arthur and Guinevere also travel to the 21st century. This mixing of characters and time periods leads to some humorous moments. While Stu uses his video game skills to defeat challengers to the throne and defend Britain against the Saxons, Guinevere tries her first cherry Slurpee from 7-Eleven (and gets her first brain freeze!).
When Arthur learns from “the Google” how his story ends, he balks at returning to his own time. His actions in the present are starting to affect the fabric of time, though, threatening everything from Stu’s life to pepperoni pizza. To make matters worse, the evil Morgana wants to kill Arthur. It’s up to Sophie and Stu to save the day (with a little help from Merlin).
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is November 20.
Inkling by Kenneth Opel is a fantastic story about an ink blot who comes to life and helps the Rylance family get unstuck.
Sixth grader Ethan Rylance is frustrated. Just because his dad is a famous artist, all of his friends assume he can draw too, so they’ve put him in charge of the art for their group graphic novel project. It’s not going well. And his dad is no help. Ever since his mom’s death, his dad has suffered from writer’s block. He often leaves it up to Ethan to take care of his younger sister Sarah, who has Down syndrome.
Then, one night, an ink blot pulls himself off of Mr. Rylance’s sketch pad and starts exploring…
You might think that an ink blot wouldn’t make a very interesting character, but you’d be very wrong. Inkling is a fascinating creature and an empathetic and loyal friend. He can make himself small enough to fit on the top of a shoe or large enough to splash a giant King Kong across a wall. He can be a drawing tutor for Ethan or a puppy for Sarah, and he might even be able to help their dad. My favorite thing about Inkling is that he eats stories and pictures. Superhero comics make him hyper, and The BFG makes him spell out things like “I is having a frothsome adventure!”
This book is both entertaining and heart-warming. I recommend it highly.
Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book. It will be available in bookstores on November 6.
The Wishmakers by Tyler Whitesides is a very funny book about wishes and their consequences.
One day, twelve-year-old Ace opens a peanut butter jar without reading the fine print and releases a genie named Ridge. The good news: He’s now a Wishmaker and may make as many wishes as he likes. The bad news: For every wish, the Universe imposes a consequence and he has just thirty seconds to decide whether to accept. The worse news: The Universe has given him a quest, and unless he completes it in seven days, all the world’s cats and dogs will turn into zombies.
Things get even more complicated when he meets Tina and Jathon, other young Wishmakers with quests of their own that seem to conflict with his. And things get more complicated still as they make more and more wishes with consequences on top of consequences (which may last for an hour, a day, a week, or forever). For example, at one point, whenever anyone says Tina’s name, she claps, and whenever anyone claps, Ace’s shoelace comes untied. Ace also accepts a day without his left arm, a week without being able to read, and a lifetime with a green tongue. It all adds up to a fast-paced and zany adventure.
Larrabee and I both enjoyed this book and are looking forward to the sequel, The Wishbreaker. It’s coming soon!